New Horizon Milk Under Fire Over Synthetic Ingredient

horizon milk dean foods cornucopiaDairy conglomerate Dean Foods is again in the cross hairs of organic food advocates, with its Horizon brand under fire for allegedly adding a synthetic chemical to a new line of apparently USDA-certified organic milk.

While Dean Foods' new Horizon Fat-Free Milk Plus DHA Omega 3, introduced on Feb. 22, does bear the U.S. Department of Agriculture's organic seal, analysts at the Cornucopia Institute, a prominent organic industry watchdog organization, say the DHA oil part of the new product is in fact a synthetic ingredient derived from algae, and that it is prohibited in organic food production.Cornucopia filed a legal complaint against Dean Foods on Feb. 23. The group told Consumer Ally It wants the USDA, at minimum, to send a cease-and-desist letter to Dean Foods, something that would prevent Horizon from putting the new milk on the market.

"The specific type of laboratory-produced DHA oil that Horizon adds to its milk has never been reviewed by the National Organic Standards Board or approved by the USDA," said Charlotte Vallaeys, a farm and food policy analyst with Cornucopia.

The company sent the following statement to Consumer Ally:
  • USDA has not banned the use of plant-based DHA in organic milk, nor has it questioned the safety or efficacy of the ingredient.
  • In 2010, the USDA chose to re-evaluate the process they had used in coming to a previous decision to approve various added nutrients, such as plant-based DHA omega-3, for use in organic products.
  • The USDA's rationale was that a formal petition process with a public hearing was not used in their previous approval process.
  • We worked with Martek, who produces our plant-based DHA, to follow the correct process for filing a petition with the USDA to maintain plant-based DHA omega 3 as an additive to organic milk. However, USDA has not yet concluded the formal approval process.
  • Our Horizon Organic Plus DHA Omega-3 products are certified organic, and have been since their inception. We are proud to offer the latest product in our lineup – Horizon Fat Free Milk Plus DHA Omega 3
During the launch of the new milk, Dean Foods' Horizon spokesman Dr. Alan Greene said: "Organic milk fortified with DHA is a great option for families looking to incorporate nutritious products in their diets with the proven benefits of DHA, including those for heart, brain and eye health.

According to Cornucopia, Greene's claims about the oil's nutritional benefits are not proven. Furthermore, while Cornucopia questions the nutritional value of synthetic oils like DHA -- and their safety, in some circumstances -- its analysts say the bottom line is that DHA is presently prohibited from organic foods.

"It is therefore absolutely baffling that Dean Foods would introduce a product with synthetic DHA and have the audacity to label it organic, and it's even more disturbing that their certifier would allow this," Vallaeys said.

This is not the first time a Dean Foods company has come under attack from organic food proponents.

In 2009, advocates criticized the Dean Foods-owned White Wave produced Silk line of soy milk, characterizing White Wave's switch of Silk's package label from "organic" to the less meaningful "natural" as deceptively quiet.

In a statement to Consumer Ally, at the time, White Wave denied that it failed to provide updated information about the label change to consumers, retailers, and distributors.

In 2010, Cornucopia helped advocate for a USDA ruling that overturned a Bush Administration allowance of DHA oil in organic products.

The past and the present are connected, its analysts maintain.

"According to the USDA ruling, companies should be in the process of phasing out the use of these unapproved additives in organic foods," Vallaeys said. "The last thing we expected was to see a marketer actually introduce a new product with these unapproved synthetic substances."

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